Libraries keep learning going after school

Posted: September 23, 2012

Siobhan A. Reardon

is president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Every day, the Free Library of Philadelphia works to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity for all who come through our doors. And at 3:15 each weekday afternoon, our branches throughout the city welcome a rush of some of our most creative, curious, and clever customers - Philadelphia's students. Whether they attend public, charter, private, or parochial school, these students gather together daily at the Free Library to read, interact, learn, and grow.

In our knowledge-driven society, it is more important than ever for students of all ages to not only master their schoolwork, but to have a safe place where they can build upon what they learn in school, explore new ideas and concepts, and develop a true love of books and literacy. Though the school day ends in midafternoon, learning shouldn't have to. That's why I am proud that the Free Library is the "school after school" for so many Philadelphia students.

At all of our branches, the Free Library offers a free, drop-in Literacy Enrichment After-school Program (LEAP), where students in elementary through high school can enjoy homework assistance, computer tutorials, and daily enrichment activities. LEAP promotes excellence in reading and writing as well as literacy in science, technology, and world cultures. LEAP also introduces students to the many library resources and materials that are available - free of charge - to help them with school assignments, applying to college, and eventually securing meaningful employment. Crucially, in addition to encouraging academic achievement, LEAP fosters a safe and supportive, nonjudgmental zone for children and teens.

Whether they stop by their neighborhood library or complete their school assignments at home, students can also take advantage of the Free Library's Homework Help Online service, which offers skills-building tutorials, test-prep materials, and a one-on-one help center for a variety of subjects each day from 2 to 11 p.m. (and in Spanish from 6 to 11 p.m.) at freelibrary.org. Our popular Summer Reading Game also encourages students to stay on grade level by reading books and earning prizes over the school holidays.

For thousands of our city's young people, the Free Library provides a safe and quiet space for them to complete their homework, interact with peers, or lose themselves in a story from off our shelves. But perhaps most critically, our librarians provide a welcoming place for students to explore topics that pique their interests, to take control of their own learning under the watchful, caring guidance of an information expert. It is often this unstructured time that provides us with the richest opportunities for growth - when a student discovers a new favorite author upon a librarian's recommendation, or has an "ah-ha!" moment when given the space and support to puzzle through a challenging problem.

As the "school after school" for about 70,000 students, the Free Library is committed to helping all of our city's young learners achieve success both in and out of the classroom. In doing so, we help to foster a more prosperous and vibrant Philadelphia.


E-mail Siobhan A. Reardon at president@freelibrary.org.

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